Relive Arrested Development By Visiting The Banana Stand That Inspired It

Frozen bananas have been served in this California town since the 1940s.

Twenty years ago this week, the world learned a valuable lesson: "There's always money in the banana stand."

On Arrested Development, George Bluth always said this literally, referring to (ancient spoilers ahead) actual money stashed in the walls of the family's banana-shaped treat shop. But on Newport Beach's Balboa Island, the phrase has a different meaning—one that involves a decades-old rivalry, millions of bananas, and one allegedly stolen recipe.

When the show premiered on Fox on November 2, 2003, we were introduced to the banana-shaped Bluth's Original Frozen Banana kiosk, which, according to the show's lore, opened in 1963 in Newport Beach. That fiction is extremely close to the original story of how frozen bananas became a fixture in the city, except in real life, there are two frozen banana stands, and they both claim to have invented the original frozen banana. In reality, it just might be that neither of them did. But both bananas are absolutely worth a taste.

Yes, on the very same stretch of Marine Avenue on Balboa Island, the quaintest section of Newport Beach, an already quaint city in Orange County, California, two banana stands are vying for your money and your fandom.

The original frozen banana stand(s)

When you cross the bridge onto Balboa Island, the first massive sign advertising the "original frozen banana" is Dad's Donut & Bakery Shop. It sells dozens of flavors of doughnuts, cronuts, and muffins, as well as chocolate-dipped ice cream "Balboa Bars" and 10 varieties of frozen bananas, which are dipped in chocolate and then coated in anything from crushed Oreos to butter brickle to honey almond granola.

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It's very convincing. The first time I saw it, I immediately thought I was seeing the real banana stand that inspired Bluth's. But just a block down, on the same side of the street, there's another contender: Sugar 'n Spice.

Of the two, I have to say, Sugar 'n Spice makes a stronger argument for its historicity. While Dad's signs say "The original frozen banana and Balboa bar," the signage at Sugar 'n Spice reads "The original frozen banana since 1945." There's also a huge display explaining the shop's history: It was started by Bob and Dot Cook, who opened Bob & Dot Candies in July 1945.

"One day soon thereafter," the account reads, "Dot asked their then 11-year-old son Don to put a bunch of bananas in the refrigerator; instead, he accidentally put them in the freezer." Instead of throwing them out, the story says, inspiration struck Bob.

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The display goes on to recount the eureka moment:

"He had the idea to dip them in warm fudge and cover the outside with various toppings like english toffee crumbs and chopped peanuts. It was that moment that the Original Frozen Banana was born! Bob & Don's delicious creation was an instant hit with their candy shop customers, and soon visitors from all over were flocking to Balboa Island just to enjoy their unique frozen treat! Dot and Bob instantly added the bananas to the shop's menu, and also quickly added to the menu blocks of vanilla ice cream on a wooden stick which, like the frozen bananas, they double-dunked in melted chocolate and rolled in various toppings – leading to the beginning of the famous Balboa Bar!"

For true Arrested Development fans, these dueling accounts might immediately call to mind a season 3 storyline when G.O.B. opens a rival "Banana Shack" directly across the street from Bluth's. And yes, it really happened.

One of those stands definitely had to open before the other, and the other is riding the early bird's coattails. The historic record seems to hold up for Sugar 'n Spice—the Los Angeles Times and the Orange County Register claim it's the original, and it's gotten a Certificate of Congressional Recognition by the U.S. government.

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Which banana stand is best?

History aside, I preferred Sugar 'n Spice. The banana itself seemed to have been fresher when it was frozen, so the texture and flavor were more like a perfectly ripe banana, and the toppings (I picked chocolate sprinkles and peanuts) were hand-dipped to order. The combination of frozen chocolate and warm chocolate was fantastic.

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The banana at Dad's Donut seemed to be more in the "banana bread" stage of its life cycle; it was darker and had a softer texture, even when frozen, and a flavor that was partially banana, but also had vague notes of old freezer. The butter brickle topping was tasty, but it was only on one side, and it had stray bits of other toppings stuck in it.

But here's the real plot twist: Just like on the show, when George stole the banana stand business model from Annyong's grandfather, that really happened too.

Allegedly, at least. Smithsonian Magazine, in its story about Balboa Island's frozen banana stands, traces the history of the treat back to 1940, when Don Phillips opened "The Original Banana Stand," which is no longer in business. And even he probably lifted the idea, at least according to the article, which says that the treat was first served years earlier at the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago.

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Whichever banana you choose, you can't really go wrong. With a sunny afternoon in Orange County and a sweet treat to enjoy, it won't matter who invented what. All that will matter is that you're there enjoying the moment—provided that no one has burned the place down for the insurance money, of course.

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